Ohio Train Derailments Raise Safety Concerns

The derailment of two Norfolk Southern trains, one contaminating surrounding areas with hazardous chemicals on board, has led to many concerns about the safety of such trains. Many residents living near the train wreck sites reported adverse effects.

Two train derailments in Ohio within a month of each other have brought Norfolk Southern Railway under scrutiny.

During the first derailment, 38 train cars on a freight train carrying 151 train cars were derailed. 11 of these derailed train cars held hazardous material, which ignited and caught fire, causing further damage to cars that didn’t derail.

Additionally, five of the aforementioned tank cars were transporting vinyl chloride, a highly flammable carcinogen. In one of the cars, the temperature continued to rise, prompting the train crews to conduct a controlled release and burn of the chemicals to prevent an explosion.

The first derailment occurred in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, 2023, as a result of an overheated bearing on one of the cars. Security camera footage taken 20 miles before the site of the derailment captures sparks and flames emanating from the wheels.

A portion of the Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed in East Palestine on Feb. 3, 2023, due to an overheated wheel bearing (Credit: VOA News).

The second derailment occurred a month later, on March 4, 2023, this time near Springfield, Ohio. No hazardous chemicals or materials were released.

The exact cause of this derailment is currently being investigated. However, these two derailments within a close time range have placed concern on the security of Norfolk Southern Railway, the fourth-largest railway in the United States.

Following the derailment in February, many East Palestine residents reported nausea, rashes, headaches, and various other adverse effects that were not experienced before the derailment.

Many residents were also concerned about the quality of their drinking water, though officials stated that the water in East Palestine was safe to drink based on water tests.

Residents also reported a strong odor permeating the town, with many concerned about their proximity to the hazardous chemicals potentially released into the air and water.

“I can only sympathize with the residents of that area because I would never be able to accept the fact that I’d have to evacuate my own home in order to be safe,” sophomore Janeidy Da Silva said.

Waterways in the surrounding area were contaminated, killing over 3,500 fish, though officials say that these contaminants have been contained and will be diluted as it spreads.

The Environmental Protection Agency has not detected any concerning levels of hazardous chemicals, but is continuing to monitor the air, soil, and water in potentially affected areas.

A plume of smoke from the derailed trains in East Palestine after train crew begin burning off hazardous chemicals to reduce risk of an explosion (Credit: The New York Times).

Norfolk Southern installed a dam in Sulphur Run, a nearby stream, to limit and prevent contamination downstream.

Additionally, over 1.7 million gallons of contaminated water, used by firefighters to douse the flames, were disposed of in Texas by Texas Molecular who was hired to manage the disposal.

4,832 cubic yards of contaminated soil was removed from the site to be disposed of in a Michigan hazardous waste disposal facility.

The National Transportation Safety Board chair, Jennifer Homendy, stated that the accident was “100% preventable,” though there is no evidence that it was caused by mismanagement on the train crew’s part.

The wheel bearing that caused the derailment reached a critical temperature of over 252 degrees Fahrenheit above the ambient surrounding temperature, triggering an alert to the crew.

During the deceleration as the train braked, the wheel bearing failed and derailed car 23, prompting the derailment of the other cars.

“It’s devastating how so many things went wrong because of one mistake that could have easily been fixed if there were more safety precautions being taken,” sophomore Liona Kohansieh said.

During the aftermath of the second derailment in Springfield, over 1,500 residents lost power, 49 still without power the following day.

There was no risk of contamination within the 212-car train.

The wreckage of a freight train in Springfield, Ohio during the aftermath of Norfolk Southern Railway’s second derailment (Credit: The New York Times).

However, these two incidents raise many concerns about the safety precautions in place to avoid derailment accidents like these.

“Aside from thinking twice about carrying such an extensive supply of toxic chemicals in a precariously long line of cars, simply securing properly engineered components of the train, such as wheel bearings, could easily have prevented this derailment,” sophomore Isaac Xu said. “Having a responsible crew that checked the equipment along with functional defect detectors that would have actually responded, rather than alerting the crew of the disaster after it was far too late, would also have been beneficial.”

“It’s really surprising that a situation like this could occur with the amount of technology we’ve developed throughout the years,” Janeidy Da Silva said. “Accidents are bound to happen in this world, but a lot of these times these incidents are caused by human negligence.”